Turkish president calls for ‘highest ranked’ of those responsible to face justice
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has publicly torn down Saudi claims that the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in a fight in its Istanbul consulate, making fresh allegations that his “savage” murder was premeditated and calling for an independent investigation in Turkey.
Erdoğan had billed his hotly anticipated address at the Turkish parliament in Ankara as the moment he would reveal the “naked truth” about what happened to Khashoggi. He said he was not satisfied with Riyadh’s suggestion that the killing was a rogue extradition operation gone wrong, and called for the “highest ranked” of those responsible to be brought to justice.
“Intelligence and security institutions have evidence showing the murder was planned … Pinning such a case on some security and intelligence members will not satisfy us or the international community,” he said. “From the person who gave the order, to the person who carried it out, they must all be brought to account.”
Contrary to expectations Erdoğan’s first update on the three-week-old case did not officially reveal the existence of audio and video evidence understood to be in Turkey’s possession.
Erdogan did reveal that on the day before Khashoggi was killed, Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul and began to scout locations, including the Belgrad Forest nearo Ankara and the city of Yalova to its south. Police have subsequently searched both areas for evidence of Khashoggi’s remains.
The president did not name the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who it is alleged was probably aware of and possibly even ordered the silencing of his prominent critic, but observers were in little doubt to who his repeated mentions of “highest ranked” referred.
The gaps in the speech also suggest Erdoğan has more cards to play in the evolving diplomatic crisis.
Erdoğan’s speech came as the Saudi foreign ministry released extraordinary photos of Khashoggi’s son, Salah bin Jamal Khashoggi, meeting the crown prince and King Salman in Riyadh on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia’s widely derided version of events has created a scandal for the kingdom. Western allies have expressed scepticism, pulling out of a large foreign investment conference in Riyadh that began on Tuesday and triggering calls from the US Congress to reevaluate the close political friendship between the Trump administration and the crown prince.
Tabling new allegations that Saudi officials scoped out rural areas outside Istanbul the day before Khashoggi’s murder, Erdoğan said Turkey’s investigation was ongoing.
“Saudi Arabia has taken an important step by admitting the murder,” Erdoğan said. “As of now we expect of them to openly bring to light those responsible – from the highest ranked to the lowest – and to bring them to justice.”
Erdoğan spoke of the “sincerity” of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in the investigation so far but made no mention of his son, the crown prince.
Saudi Arabia must relinquish control of the investigation into the “political” murder to an independent and unbiased Turkish operation in Istanbul, Erdoğan said.
The president strongly criticised Saudi Arabia’s “inconsistent statements” in the case and demanded the kingdom identify the “local collaborator” who allegedly disposed of Khashoggi’s body.
Riyadh says Khashoggi was accidentally choked during a rendition attempt that went wrong, and his body was rolled up in a rug and given to a third party.
Turkish investigators, however, have steadily leaked evidence to the media that allegedly proves the journalist was tortured, murdered and his body dismembered within the consulate building. CCTV footage shows a body double dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes leaving the consulate and touring Istanbul’s landmarks, undermining the idea that the team interrogating Khashoggi meant to bring him back alive.
As reported by the Observer on Sunday, Turkish investigators may have intercepted the hit squad’s communications. Reuters said on Monday that Saud al-Qahtani, an influential adviser to Bin Salman, participated in a Skype call to the room in the consulate where Khashoggi was held, telling the team to “bring me the head of the dog”.